Raving over Adobe Creative Cloud or using free software?
The Internet is buzzing with news from Adobe MAX 2013. How is the switch to subscriptions going to affect the industry and free software? And how does free software stand against upcoming creative cloud apps?
The tired competition debate
Once you start talking to developers of GIMP, Inkscape and other apps, you realize that what drives them is the will to implement their own ideas. Strong feelings against proprietary vendors such as Adobe are actually rare.
But there's a problem with wider audience: not everybody gets that. An anecdotal evidence suggests that some users even think they know better why developers make free software:
Any claim from someone informed about GIMP's development that replacing Photoshop wasn't a major consideration in the design change is disingenuous to the point of insult.
(A user on the save/export paradigm change in GIMP 2.8.)
Whether we like it or not, we are going to deal with a situation where people are trying to compare GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus et al. against respective counterparts among Adobe Creative Cloud tools. So the first part of this article is a feature map between them.
I've no intention to try mapping all features of the upcoming update of Adobe's “suite”. It took Steve Czaika no less than 25 pages just to go through basic feature comparison between Photoshop and GIMP. Besides one of the points of Adobe's subscription model is that new Creative Cloud features will become available immediately, thus making a huge chunk of this article incomplete. Similarly, changes in unstable versions of respective free software will eventually make this text obsolete — hopefully, with your help.
Instead of trying to cover every angle let's focus on just the new features of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and how they are represented in free software. After that let's talk about how Adobe's switch to subscription model may affect free software ecosystem.
Where applicable, I'll provide information about potential solutions that require programming intervention, or refer to darktable and Krita instead of listing just GIMP options. All cloud-related features are discussed in a separate section.
Disclaimer: I'm member of both GIMP, Inkscape, and darktable teams.
Photoshop CC and GIMP
If you are not up to date with what's happening in the GIMP land, I suggest you to have a go at the official feature roadmap.
In short, upcoming GIMP 2.10 has up to 32bit float per color channel precision supported by all transformation, selection and painting tools, as well as all filters. It also has unified transform tool and is getting much improved foreground selection tool as you read this.
References to new Photoshop features:
- complete list;
- Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers (video review);
- Photoshop CC Overview (video review).
Smart Sharpen. Not currently available and not tracked as a feature request. The existing Wavelet Sharpen and Wavelet Denoise plug-ins could serve as a foundation for such a tool.
Intelligent upsampling. Available in unstable version. Better downsampling and upsampling algorithms are a work in progress in GEGL, the new GIMP's engine. NoHalo and LoHalo samplers have been completed and are already available in GIMP's user interface to those who are brave enough to play with unstable code. Work on LoJaggy and LoBlur samplers is currently postponed.
See preliminary GIMP 2.10 review on gimpusers.com for a better illustration of new samplers
Camera shake reduction. There are two 3rd party deconvolution filters for GIMP: refocus and refocus-it. Both are considerably outdated and unmaintained. Contribution from new developers is welcome. There's a number of papers available on the subject.
Editable rounded rectangles, multi-shape and path selection. Not available. Both features are technically possible in GIMP with vector layers back-end which is currently lacking user interface. Developers wanted.
Expanded Smart Object support. Not available. Non-destructive application of filters to linked layers is relatively easy to do with future GEGL-based GIMP. Unstable version of GIMP already has API for stacking filters on layers, but isn't going to expose it in the user interface until at least v3.0. Linking external documents as layers, which is a prerequisite, is also at least a v3.0 feature (Krita has it in the unstable branch).
Improved 3D painting, 3D Scene panel. GIMP currently isn't aiming at providing 3D features.
Global type styles. Not available. It was covered during usability research, though. This project needs a complete functional specification from the usability team and a dedicated developer.
Text editing in GIMP 2.8 got a lot better, but needs further work
Copying of CSS attributes. Generation of CSS code (like rounded buttons with gradient fills) is currently not available in GIMP, not tracked as a feature request, and probably shouldn't be expected — at least, not until vector layers get a user interface. You can generate CSS code out of an existing gradient though (available in stable version), but that's far from PS's feature set.
Conditional Actions. No direct equivalent available, possible with future GEGL-based GIMP. The feature isn't currently tracked in bugzilla. Programming-savvy users don't need to worry about that, as they have a variety of languages to write scripts for GIMP with (Scheme, Python, Ruby etc.).
Workflow time-savers. Adobe lists numerous examples of usability improvements in that section. Some of them have been available in GIMP for years, some are relatively new, and some are not available yet.
Color import from web files. Not available and not tracked as a feature request. It's a low-hanging fruit though, as GIMP already has a tool for creating swatches from images and is capable of rendering a web page into an image via Webkit.
System anti-aliasing for type. Partially available. Photoshop and GIMP have a feature overlap here. Photoshop used to render type without hinting, and now it's also capable of representing text the way operating systems render it. This is what GIMP has been doing since its inception, although it always uses Freetype for the rendering of type instead of simulating output of native shaping and hinting engines on Windows and Mac.
Instead of smooth scaling GIMP rasterizes type and provides control over hinting
Improved Min and Max filters. GIMP currently doesn't have controls over masks, unless you count running Gaussian blur over a mask as such. This also isn't tracked as a feature request.
ACR as filter. While the existing stable version of GIMP still relies on UFRaw for opening photos in RAW formats, the future GEGL-based version will use a completely different approach to processing, where any filters and tools are available to GIMP, and RAW opened is just another loader. So this will be available out of box.
Various new ACR/Lightroom tools, such as Radial Gradient and Upright tool are either available in the stable version of darktable or are expected to ship in the next one. E.g. radial gradient is simply a mask applied to a new instance of exposure plug-in.
TL;DR on GIMP. Some of the new Photoshop features are available in either stable or unstable versions of GIMP. Others are a low-hanging fruit for an interested contributor and can be implemented right away or need a complete GEGL port (which is a work in progress). Apart from 3D, none of the new features in Photoshop present a huge technical challenge.
Illustrator CC and Inkscape
It's worth mentioning that during the current development cycle Inkscape already got a huge amount of polishing and cleanup, as well as useful new features. For an overview please refer to preliminary release notes on v0.49.
References to new Illustrator features:
Touch Type tool. Available, but implemented differently. Adobe basically provided a kind of Inkscape's Selector tool for separate glyphs. Inline formatting has been available in Inkscape for a long, long time. And that's including rotation of glyphs.
Silly example of inline glyph rotation. See Inkscape Text Tricks for reference.
Images in brushes. Not available. Inkscape's brush system is entirely vector based and operates on single/compound paths.
Auto corners for pattern brushes. Not available. Theoretically it's possible with live path effects which are used for the brush system. Patches are welcome.
Font search. Partially available. Inkscape is capable of filtering fonts by matching search query to font names. Font faces are neither displayed nor searched for in the list are are available for selection in another drop-down list.
Filtering fonts by name in Inkscape
Multiple file place. Not available. Dropping multiple images from e.g. file manager just works, but Inkscape doesn't do anything beyond merely linking them.
CSS extraction. Not available. Inkscape ships with extensions for slicing images and generating HTML5+CSS code from a document, but doesn't generate CSS code for standalone objects.
Sync colors. Not available. Kuler does have an API, but creating a libre social service for swatches along the lines of Open Clip Art or Open Font Library would be preferable.
Area and point type conversion. Partially available. It's possible to convert flowed text (area type) into simple text object (point type), but it doesn' work in the opposite direction. Flowed text implementation in Inkscape is an old sad story. It's best not to expect this feature until flowed text is reimplemented.
On-art Free Transform. Partially available. Inkscape has been providing on-canvas handles for transformation of objects since its early releases. The difference is that envelope transformation is a live path effect and hence is available separately.
Envelope transform is a path effect in Inkscape
File packaging. Available. Stable version of Inkscape ships with an extension that collects all files including fonts into a ZIP archive.
Easily unembed images. Available. Stable version of Inkscape ships with an extension that unembeds images from SVG to a user defined folder and links to them instead.
Expanded Links panel options. Not available, tracked as a feature request. Preliminary work on that has been done, user interface is currently missing. An interested contributor could still be in time to get it into v0.49.
TL;DR on Inkscape. A considerable amount of major new Illustrator's features are already available in Inkscape. The ones that are not available are generally of two kinds: 1) not possible to do without extending SVG specification, and 2) not available due to lack of dedicated developers.
InDesign CC and Scribus
Scribus has a somewhat painfully slow development cycle which is explained by two factors: attempt to make stable versions really stable and provide reliable PDF output (print runs are pricey), insufficient manpower.
A lot of long overdue features such as bullet/numeric lists, real tables, footnotes, and IDML support are only available in the unstable version. For a complete list please refer to the official 1.5.x roadmap.
References to new InDesign features:
Background update for document settings. Not available, not tracked as a feature request.
Modern UI. Scribus is slowly getting there. The unstable branch features dockable dialogs instead of floating palettes (you can still float them, if you like) and various usability improvements.
HiDPI and Retina display support. Should be supported in user interface widgets in unstable version when built with Qt 5.1. Support for HiDPI displays for all canvas objects needs checking.
Font search and filter, instant font preview, font favorites. Not available.
QR Code Creator. Partially available. When generating a QR code, Scribus creates a group of vector objects, so the code is scalable. However Scribus provides a simple text input, whereas InDesign makes it possible to store whole business card information or an email message.
Inline TOC and index generation in EPUB. Not available. Generation of EPUB with Scribus is a strictly experimental incomplete feature a this point, and it's only available in one of the unstable Git branches.
TL;DR for Scribus. It's easy to notice that most of the major new features in InDesign are improvements rather than big fat changes. Scribus, however, is still “getting there”. The team is currently being sponsored by Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, but is, nevertheless, somewhat understaffed. Official unstable release, v1.5.0 is expected around end of 2013, with stable v1.6.0 to follow some time in 2014.
There are several open source implementations for cloud storage. Perhaps the most popular of them is ownCloud. Some of the Inkscape and Krita developers think that ownCloud integration would make sense. GIMP and Scribus developer hadn't commented on it by the time this article was published.
For slightly more tech-savvy users SparkleShare is another completely free (as in speech) alternative that requires setting up a Git repository — either self-hosted or on services such as Github and Gitorious.
In terms of collaboration and integration with existing centralized services free software is behind the times. While it's fairly easy to implement uploader to DeviantArt's Sta.sh, and Matt Stephens personally reached out to as many free software teams as he could, barely anythingone made the move. Few free applications support services like Open Clip Art and Open Font Library, and other services (like a Kuler equivalent) are simply missing.
As for syncing settings between machines, all that Linux users need is to learn how to create symbolic links. That, and fairly commonly used Dropbox (or, again, SparkleShare) are a solution that just works.
Subscriptions and misconceptions
What does switching to Creative Cloud actually mean? For a more complete coverage I suggest reading Forbes's coverage. But here are three essential changes:
- Adobe's software becomes a service with monthly billed subscriptions.
- Projects storage and collaboration moves further to the cloud (optional).
- New features are distributed across Creative Cloud subscribers as soon as they are ready instead of being part of single releases every 18-24 months.
The complete individual plan is $49 a month. It's an annual commitment billed monthly, and it provides access to most commonly used desktop applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign etc. The projected cost of ownership with that plan for 5 years is, therefore, ca. $3000. That's considerably more than $1899 for premium version of CS + $599 upgrade in 18 months. Which is one of the reason some of the users are outraged.
What The Duck promptly responded with a comic strip
But there's no going back: Adobe specifically mentions in the FAQ that they are not planning to provide traditional licensing alongside subscriptions. This makes CS6 the last version of Creative Suite that you can pay once for and then use until the Sun burns out.
There's also quite a few misconceptions about the Creative Cloud. E.g. one of Typophile forum members says:
I guess this is yet another reason I don't what adobe products. Of course with my questionable internet connection, I don't even think that it would be possible.
In an interview to Dpreview.com Winston Hendrickson, Adobe VP of Creative Solutions, specifically explains:
One final point I'd like to address is the misconception that you have to be continuously connected to the Internet to use a CC application. Monthly subscribers can go for as long as 30 days without connecting to the Internet for license validation. Users with an annual commitment can go for as long as 99 days.
Why does Adobe think this is going to work, one might ask?
According to the press-release on Q1 2013 financial results, Adobe ended Q1 with 479 thousand paid Creative Cloud members, an increase of 153 thousand over Q4 2012. In other words, Adobe had a growing user base of Creative Cloud users anyway. Jonathan Williamson of CG Cookie / Blender Cookie is one of them:
I've been on the subscription for a year now and never had a problem. I don't get why people are so pissed with Adobe going subscription only. It's cheaper to maintain a subscription than even biyearly upgrades. For CGC we have 3-4 subscriptions at around $120/month, I believe. With daily use it's way cheaper than buying new licenses. There are problems with cloud subscriptions, but there's also a ton of benefits. I'm very optimistic for it all.
According to the financial Q4 2012 report, Adobe is planning to exit fiscal 2013 year with ~125 million of Creative Cloud subscribers. Is it feasible? Probably not. Q2 2013 report will outline what's realistic.
And thus we come to the initial question: how is it going to affect free software? Are we going to see more users switching to GIMP, Inkscape et al.?
Free software vs. reality
Once you start evaluating, if it's possible to switch to free software, there are a few aspects that need to be taken into consideration beyond not having to buy a license and pay subscriptions. While comparing proprietary software to free software, for the latter users would have to cope with:
- lacking essential features;
- less polished interfaces;
- worse interoperability.
For certain tasks and workflows that would result in longer turnover. Drop less quality educational materials (on average) into the equation, and you get even longer initial turnover.
Another important factor is that expectations for desktop software for graphic design and photography are raising all the time. But GIMP, Inkscape, and Scribus teams are still not large enough to handle that.
What it amounts to is that in the years to come we are likely to see about the same market segmentation on the desktop.
Another possibility is that further evolution of mobile devices will bring better mobile apps that substitute fat desktop software even for authoring content. But developers of free software for creating content aren't exactly rushing towards Android. In an already saturated apps market it means less chances for recognition.
Expecting users to drop cloud-based services, centralized networks, and subscription models doesn't seem realistic. The history clearly demonstrates that people happily trade control over their content for features and ease of use.
It is, however, possible to create usable decentralized or self-hosted services based on free software and provide integration for them in free software (something GNOME and KDE already work on).
So you want to switch to free software
Let's say you are so frustrated that you want to evaluate a possibility to switch from Adobe's software to GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus et al.
If you are in photography, your best options on Linux today are darktable, GIMP, and Krita. The latter application is rather a digital painting app, but provides useful features such as adjustment layers.
If you are in desktop publishing, start with Libre Graphics Production. It's a great overview of fre software based DTP workflow.
If you are in digital painting, you have options like GIMP, MyPaint, and Krita. And remember that for Krita you can get regular paid technical support from KO GmbH.
If you are in visual effects business, the best choice currently is Blender's node-based compositing. Alternatively you can try using Synfig's layer-based compositing.
If you've read this far (thank you!), you are probably wondering, what on Earth is going on here, and since when Libre Graphics World started promoting Adobe. Also, why are they bashing free software, who is this Alexandre Prokoudine and how can he live with himself?
The thing is, we've heard “This is the big chance of Linux to advance on desktop” at least half a dozen of times before, most recently — with Windows 8 sales not going as strong as expected. And yet, on a large scale, Linux on desktop is not exactly a huge success.
Adobe's plans are certainly frustrating for some of their customers, but, as demonstrated above, it's a mix of valid concerns, misunderstanding of the changes and the usual initial resistance to changes. We've seen this kind of frustrations before, and Adobe wasn't too badly affected by them. Nor did free software gain a massive user base boost as the result.
Hence it's realistic, in my opinion, to expect that GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus et al. will proceed to improve at the usual pace unless they somehow find a way to draw more developers into the game and work on the educational aspect.
For the rest of us there's a simple actionable advice.